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The Weekly Blog

The Repair Shop

This week I received a call from someone at the BBC, asking if we had any old racing objects, preferably with an interesting story behind them, that needed fixing. “Of course,” I said, “we have an old Grandstand.”

The old stand at Kelso Racecourse was constructed to a design by John Carr, the celebrated engineer from York who designed the World’s first permanent grandstands. Contemporary accounts state that, when the stand opened, it boasted a busy “tavern” on the ground floor, private rooms for the Duke’s guests on the first floor, and a fabulous viewing terrace on the roof. And while the building remains much as it was for Kelso’s first racemeeting in 1823, there are a few things that could now do with fixing.

John Carr Grandstand

Aside from the flaking sandstone, chipped cornices, and the odd piece of broken cast iron railing, the once busy tavern was eventually converted to space for the jockeys to change, together with a Weighing Room. The arched colonnade to the front of the stand was blocked to create a room for the jockeys’ valets to wash kit and clean tack, adaptions which have reduced ventilation through the building and, over a long period of time, encouraged various forms of decay.

We have a plan to relocate the jockeys and the raceday officials to a new building, which will enable the old stand to be repaired, refurbished and made fully available to racegoers. And what a story the old building will be able to tell – two-hundred years of Dukes, Duchesses, prisoners of war, racecourse stewards, racehorse owners, trainers and jockeys. The refurbishment is likely to cost several hundreds of thousands of pounds – so how great, I thought, that the nice man from the BBC called to offer to have it all fixed up…

“Eh… no.” he said. “The Repair Shop is located in Sussex; we can only fix things that will fit easily into our barn.”

Damn. That rules out the grandstand. It also rules out the roof of the stable staff hostel and the results of any races (which the BHA generally frowns upon in any case). Instead punters will have to rely on our weekly selection: Balygrifincottage who’s entered for the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.

Apparently what the makers of The Repair Shop would really like to find is someone with an interesting piece of horseracing memorabilia: an old saddle, a trophy, a gallops book, or perhaps an ancient grooming kit. It is has to be in need of repair (of course), and it has to have a story – something that will resonate with viewers and help them to understand the emotional pull of our sport.

If you have just such an item in your attic, or maybe even outside, broken, in a tack room, get in touch with The Repair Shop production team at the ‘Take Part’ section of the BBC website.

And if you know of a grant funding agency, or wish to make your own personal donation, to assist in the restoration of a much loved and architecturally important listed grandstand, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.